• Barbarella

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected.

-- Spike Milligan

I was sitting in the coffee shop across the street from my building when my cell phone began to vibrate and skitter across the table. To avoid annoying my fellow caffeine junkies, I answered in a whisper: " Hey beh beh. What's up? " Only ten minutes had passed since I'd seen David, ten minutes since I had told him I was heading over to the Urban Grind with my laptop for a change of scenery and would be back in an hour. It wasn't like him to bug me with minute-by-minute updates (that's my department). I detected a note of despair in his answer. "I can't believe this," he said. In the moment before his next words, several possibilities flashed through my mind -- someone's sick. No, worse, dead . No, don't think that. Maybe he just has to get back to someone regarding an appointment and needs me to check my calendar, or maybe someone's sick or dead. No, stop that. Maybe he just needs my car key.

"The Internet is down." Like a cold autumn wind, his words blew through my thoughts, scattering them like leaves.

" That's it? " I whispered. " It's probably just a glitch. Why don't you go into my office and see if you can pick up one of our neighbor's connections?"

"Good idea, let me try that," said David, his voice flickering with hope. I stared at the other patrons, wondering nervously if they could hear my whispers over the acid jazz, while I waited on the line to see if David could pick up a signal. "Nope. Doesn't work. Maybe you'll have better luck with yours," he said.

" Did you call Cox? "

"Yeah, I did." The hope I'd heard in his voice a moment before had been usurped by desperation. "They said they can't see our modem, they can't do anything on their end, and they'll have to send someone out here, but that no one is available until Saturday. I can't live ," David moaned.

"WHAT?!" I shrieked, ignoring the heads that suddenly jerked up to look at me like irritated prairie dogs. "SATURDAY? That's ridiculous, that's two days from now." When the initial shock wore off, I realized David was probably taking this much harder than me, and said, "I'll be right there, beh beh."

I figured once I showed David that my laptop's superior reception capability would allow us to piggyback on someone else's broadband for a few days, he would realize we had nothing to worry about. I walked through the door, flashed a confident smile to a dejected looking David, and marched into my office. When I opened my laptop, I smiled at the five small black lines that indicated a strong signal. David hovered over me. I launched my browser and held my breath. With each passing second, my hope faded. As though it had been reluctant to let me down, my trusted digital friend waited for what seemed like an eternity before, finally, like a doctor who lost a patient, delivered the tragic news: "I'm sorry. I did everything I could," although the way it actually read was, "Safari can't find the server."

"That can't be," I said. David nodded to confirm the sad truth. He had already visited denial, stopped by anger and bargaining, and was now rearranging the throw pillows in depression. It was clear he wouldn't be setting out for acceptance any time soon. "What will we do?" I wondered aloud. Then, slipping into anger, I snapped, "What about all the people who work from home? Saturday ? How will waiting until the weekend help them? Or us?" David was patient until I offended his intelligence by saying, "Are you sure you talked to the right person? Maybe I should call."

When David (who had graduated from an Ivy League college with a degree in electrical engineering) had finished lecturing me on his superior comprehension of everything computer, we plopped down on the two chairs in the living room and stared at each other. When 20 minutes had passed, David suggested that we go get the mail.

"Great," I said, jumping to my feet with a newfound sense of purpose.

Someone had placed a notice in the elevator. We weren't alone. Under a typed paragraph asking if anyone else was having trouble connecting, a list of unit numbers and increasingly frazzled notes were scrawled from various pens: "#606 -- Went down last night, called Cox, someone coming today"; "#108 -- Can't connect, appointment tomorrow"; "#210 -- Can't get on, been two hours, still calling"; "#611 -- Down, way down. Coming Saturday." I was amazed at how quickly the community had gathered to solve the problem. I imagined it was no different 100 years ago when the well ran dry and the kinfolk would band together to find a solution, because otherwise, they would surely die.

People wandered the hallways like disaster victims. "You too?" they'd ask each other, bonding in their misery and loss. With mail in hand, David and I got back on the elevator, which was occupied by a short, stocky man with mahogany tinted skin and prominent Aztecan features. He sported a wiry black mustache, a heavy-looking tool belt, and a tag with the name "Jesus" embroidered in a florid script. I gestured at the notice and the man nodded. I opened my mouth to speak, but he had already read my mind and answered, "I'm not sure yet."

I directed Jesus to the control room that services the cable to our floor and the one below. David and I observed him closely, hoping to read (from the twitches in his cheeks, the lift of a brow, or a "Hm" versus a "Huh") just how dire the situation was. People followed our voices into the hallway and a crowd soon gathered. It was mid morning in the middle of the week, which meant all these people probably work from home and, like us, had nothing better to do than hang out in the hallway and hope for a miracle when the main line went down.

"They told me I'd have to buy a new modem," said our neighbor Bruce.

"That's funny, I was told there was an outage in this whole area," countered Ron.

"They told me it was our building and that the first person wouldn't be here until Saturday," said David, raising a quizzical brow in Jesus's direction.

The conversation paused as we all watched our neighbor Bob walk toward the elevator lobby. "I can't take this," Bob said in answer to our questioning looks. "And I don't have wireless, either, so it's not like I can just go to a coffee shop. I'm taking this baby," he raised his briefcase high, "to a friend's house. She'll be able to hook me up."

Jesus disconnected and connected. He sauntered away to make phone calls at the opposite end of the hallway, where he could be free from our nervous chattering. When he finally turned to face us, our silence was immediate. "I'm going to have to make a report," he said. "Once a report is made, it takes up to 48 hours for the issue to be resolved."

"But what does that mean? When will we be okay?" I asked.

"By Saturday," Jesus answered. "I'm sorry, really. I did all I could do. You should keep your appointments anyway, you know, squeaky wheel and all that." We nodded sadly, thanked the nice man for his time, and dispersed, each of us moping back to our own units in search of something else to do.

I decided to make the best of my time by carrying on with my Japanese language lessons. I stared at my laptop and repeated the phrases spoken by a female voice to describe the pictures that appeared on my screen. That's when I heard it -- a soft, happy-sounding chime notifying me of a new e-mail message. "David! Come here! It's happened! It's working!"

When he was standing beside me, I launched the browser and my Yahoo! home page popped up, faster than ever. "It's a miracle," David said in awe. "Our Jesus has turned wire into WAN!" Then he vanished from my side and I could hear him skipping across the hardwood floor on his way to check his e-mail.

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